A few weeks ago the minister of Justice Defence and Security Shaw Kgathi went on a national radio station and told the world that Botswana has no intention of granting political asylum to 10 Eritrean football players.
He said this a day after the players had run away from their hotel in Francistown to seek refuge at Kutlwano police station after their world cup qualifier game against Zebras.
The players later won a temporary reprieve thanks to the gutsy intervention of local human rights lawyers and Eritrean Movement for Democracy for Human rights who took the matter to court and were granted refugee status.
The day after the game, when the nation was abuzz with the news of the players’ intention not to return home with the rest of the team, Kgathi was heard telling GabzFM that, “It’s simple. They must go back home. You don’t come to a country to play football, lose and then say you want political asylum, no! There are proper steps to take and they can do that from their home country”.
Kgathi forgot that under regional and international law, Botswana is obligated to respect anyone the right to seek asylum. Further Kgathi ignored that there is a clear determination procedure under our laws and international conventions that are followed before repatriating asylum seekers.
He forgot or deliberately ignored the fact that Botswana is bound by both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which it ratified in 1969 and the 1969 OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which it ratifies in 1995.
Worse still our minister of Justice, Defence and Security chose to ignore, willingly or unwillingly, the cold fact that the Eritrean government has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Our minister also chose to ignore these truths, that in June this year the United Nations Human Rights Council released a 500 paged report that accused the Eritrean government of extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service and forced labour. And further indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are rife.
Well the latest development is that Kgathi, who had initially indicated that the 10 players would be deported back to their home country has backed down and has granted the men refugee status. With egg on his face Kgathi was forced to change his hardline stance.
While we welcome the latest development, we strongly believe that utterances by minister Kgathi have harmed our standing in the international community. In our unfortunate society where no one takes responsibility for their actions, the least we can do is to call for our careless minister of Justice, Defense and Security to do the honourable thing and apologise for his not so well thought out utterances. We also call on President Ian Khama to force his minister to apologise to the nation and the international community for the overzealous comments.
“Eritrean people are strong and caring. And despite ball that we had been through we were brimming with optimism. Our country was on the verge of huge change”